How 10 late-night venues hosted a 6-week laneway party like no other

We asked a YCK Laneways collaborator how they brought the festival to life with a City of Sydney grant.

When 10 venues in the small bar precinct of York, Clarence and Kent streets put their creative minds to it, YCK Laneways was born.

The pop-up festival was a collaboration between hospitality venues, retailers and entertainment businesses. They brought much-loved city venues to the streets, playing host to live music, comedy, dance, poetry, talks, themed dinners, trivia, light installations and live art.

The 6-week program, jam-packed with late-night cultural programming really brought the small bar precinct to life.

Free live music at Since I Left You as part of the YCK Laneways block party

We spoke to Karl Schlothauer, owner of Stitch Bar and president of the Independent Bar Association about the phenomenally successful activation of micro precinct, York, Clarence and Kent streets.

Aside from funding to get this idea off the ground, what other opportunities did the grant bring?

The ability to try new event concepts that wouldn’t normally fit within the day-to-day running of the venue. It taught us what styles of events work best and what events might have a long-term future. We learnt that venues who challenged the status quo with their events saw the best results.

The other important opportunity that the grant provided was the new relationships between the arts and creative sectors and hospitality. Lots of these relationships are now ongoing and have led to other relationships being formed.

Your project took a dedicated consortium of hospitality venues, retailers, businesses and entertainment businesses to all work together, roll their sleeves up and get on board. What were the key ingredients of success?

While technically all of the bars are competitors, in the wake of Covid-19 we all understood that what is good for the area is good for the individual. We needed to do something big to attract people back to the city centre and it is a lot easier to make yourself heard as a collective than as an individual.

With so many groups involved, it was crucial to form a leadership team to streamline the planning and decision-making process, otherwise we’d still be discussing the options. Having the right mix of people in the leadership group was also important – for example, a couple of industry veterans, a ‘hustler’ and an engineer. Each of us brought different strengths to the table, allowing us to divide and conquer.

The other key ingredient was recognising the need to engage experts in areas where we had little experience. We engaged Time Out as primary media partner, and SIMS Events to handle the outdoor activations. Without them our activations would not have seen the level of success they did.

The Lobo bar on Clarence Street

This temporary residency brought some of much-loved venues to the streets, activating precincts and bringing people back to our city and villages. This is exactly the sort of collaboration we want to support – ones where business and creatives get together to provide programming. What were the key outcomes?

There were many positive outcomes to the project, first and foremost being the increased patronage, with all participating venues experiencing an uptick in trade throughout the activation.

Having a detailed marketing campaign created a level of exposure that venues wouldn’t have achieved by themselves.

Has this led to longer term positive impacts?

In the long term, we now have a brand that is recognisable and marketable, we have an ongoing website and social media presence that provides a central point for the consumer to explore what is on within YCK.

We’ve created a formal YCK Laneways Association to look after interests of the precinct. This means we can now apply for, and deliver, grants and corporate sponsorship opportunities on behalf of the precinct, and we have a vehicle deliver these types of activations again and again.

Any other insights into what made this successful?

Flexibility and communication. Things can change, and opportunities can arise at the drop of a hat, and venues need to be flexible to effectively accommodate change. Having open and effective lines of communication was also essential with so many stakeholders and such tight schedules.

What one piece of advice would you give to other collaborators using a grant to get their idea off the ground?

An idea is just idea. It takes a strong team, with a shared vision, ambition and trust to bring them to life.

Drag Queen bingo at Prince of York on York Street

From great ideas, a phenomenal activation was born with the help of a City of Sydney grant.

If you have a space or venue you want to activate or a creative project in mind, a City of Sydney precinct activation, festival and events sponsorship, cultural and creative support or night-time diversification grant could help turn great ideas into reality. Community, cultural, business and environmental grants are now open - apply by Monday 11 April.

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